Buying a smartphone has become a very expensive business. Even the mid-range tier seems to have crept up to where flagships were a few years ago, so upgrading your old phone or replacing a broken one can bring some nasty surprises when you look at the prices.
An alternative option that's well worth exploring is refurbished phones. These are usually a lot cheaper yet still come with warranties, so long as you purchase from the right places. And since many of these retailers aren't as prolific, here's where to buy a refurbished phone so you get the best deal and don’t end up with a lemon.
Why buy a refurbished phone?
Obviously, the main reason is price. If you’re happy to have a device that’s been used before but been given a thorough clean and repair by in-house engineers, then you can save a good few pennies while also ending up with a device that will most likely last you as long as a new one. There’s also the environmental factor, where you’re extending the life of a phone.
For a longer discussion about the pros and cons of refurbished devices and how they compare to second-hand models, see refurbished tech vs used tech: which is better & why?
Is it safe to buy a refurbished phone?
So long as you use one of the many reputable companies that sell refurbished devices, you can rest assured in the knowledge that the handsets come with money-back guarantees if something does go wrong. These can range in length, which is just one difference between the companies you'll find below.
A refurbished phone may come with a replacement battery and some companies might also replace defective parts, although not necessarily with genuine components.
This isn’t really an issue, but it’s worth knowing when you’re making your decision. The companies usually state this in the device descriptions or in their general information.
Most refurbished phones, though, are simply well-looked after handsets which are fully working. The sort you can find at even cheaper prices direct from the previous owners on ebay, but you never know quite whether you can trust that a seller's "immaculate condition" description matches your own. And there's no warranty or recourse when buying from a private individual.
Where is the best place to buy a refurbished phone?
There are a wide range of retailers that offer refurbished devices these days, but here are the retailers we recommend.
If you’re after an iPhone, then the first place you should look is Apple's own website. Scroll to the bottom and under the list with the heading Apple Store you’ll see an option for Refurbished and Clearance. Select this and you’ll be taken to the refurbished area.
Apple sells iPhones that have been returned due to some fault, which has then been fixed. The models on sale all come with the same one-year waranty and support as a new one, but with usually around a 15% discount off the list price. That's not a huge discount, but it's better for newer models, as Apple tends to keep the RRP of older models as they were when first released.
Even then, you can often pick-up decent deals with the benefit of the Apple warranty.
Visit the Apple Refurbished store.
Another company that sells refurbished devices is Amazon. Through its Renewed program you can buy phones, laptops, tablets, smartwatches and a range of other electronic devices.
The company ensures that each phone will have been inspected and tested to confirm it looks and feels like new. Any defective parts are replaced, and the phones all get a thorough cleaning to ensure they are at their best. Amazon also states that the device will have ‘no visible cosmetic imperfections when held 12 inches away’.
Batteries are guaranteed to have at least 80% of their original capacity but you may receive the phones in generic boxes rather than the original packaging. Each device comes with a one-year warranty that includes the option for a refund or replacement model if they phone you receive doesn’t work as expected.
At the time of writing there was a decent selection of slightly older models with a heavy emphasis on Samsung, Apple and Google products.
Visit Amazon Renewed
One of the names you might be less familiar with is Music Magpie. As well as buying your old DVDs, CDs, books and Lego(!), the company also does a fine line in tech. These devices are then given the refurbishment treatment which Music Magpie says involves up to 90 different checks, with any defective components being replaced.
There are three different tiers for refurbished units: Pristine, Very Good and Good. The first means the device will look practically brand new, while the next two tiers will show increasing amounts of scuffs or scratches to the cases.
If you’re not bothered by a bit of wear and tear (all of which can usually be hidden by a case), then the Very Good and Good tiers can offer some substantial savings.
Every device comes with a one-year warranty covering technical defects or faults, plus there is a 14-day money back guarantee where you can return the device with no questions asked.
Visit Music Magpie
There are several other outlets that we’d also recommend, including SmartFoneStore, 4Gadgets and Envirofone, plus you’ll also usually be able to get refurbished devices on a contract from your mobile phone provider.